If a new world war is to be avoided, Russia must be stopped now
March 23, 2023
It’s becoming increasingly clear that, should Ukraine be defeated, Poland will almost certainly go to war with Russia. This escalation would unleash a tide of bloodshed throughout Europe, which makes it imperative that Moscow’s imperial ambitions are thwarted now, in Ukraine, before it’s too late.
Over the weekend, Poland’s ambassador to France, Jan Emeryk Rościszewski, told a local French broadcaster that, “Either Ukraine defends its independence today, or we have to enter this conflict.” His comments led to a flurry of speculation over whether Poland’s direct participation in the war is imminent.
Shortly afterwards, the Polish Embassy in France released a statement condemning the “sensational” claim that Warsaw was planning to enter the fray anytime soon. The embassy clarified that the ambassador’s statement was “only a warning of the consequences that a defeat of Ukraine could have — the possibility of Russia attacking or drawing into the war more central European countries, such as the Baltic states and Poland.”
Though the statement was meant to temper fears of an escalation, it only reinforced how easily things could spiral out of control.
Some in the West believe that it’s no big deal if Ukraine is defeated. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to run for president, dismissed the conflict as just a bilateral “territorial dispute.” He alleged that getting involved in Ukraine is not a “vital national interest” for his country.
Similarly, in Canada, PPC Leader Maxime Bernier claimed that, “Whether Ukraine or Russia controls Donbas/Crimea is none of our business.”
Views like these suggest that Kyiv is, in some sense, a victim of its own success. By quarantining Russian forces within a few provinces, the Ukrainians have accidentally created the impression that this is just a regional conflict that has little bearing on the security interests of surrounding states.
As a result, some people have forgotten the stakes that seemed so visceral just a year ago. Among this crowd, there are some who believe that, should Russia annex parts of Ukraine, it will be the end of things. Others think that, if Ukraine falls entirely, it will mark the end of Moscow’s expansionism, portending a return to peace.
Those who hold these views are typically unfamiliar with the region’s politics and history. For Russia’s eastern European neighbours, who understand Moscow’s ambitions better than anyone
else, it’s evident that Russian tanks will not stop at Kyiv and that a Ukrainian defeat will lead to a continental war.
Polish leaders spent over a decade warning allies that Moscow, if given the chance, will seek to re-establish its old empire and re-subjugate its neighbours. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, Poland’s then-president, Lech Kaczyński, gave a speech warning, “Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow, the Baltic states and later, perhaps, time will come for my country, Poland.”
However, Poland’s warnings were ignored. After Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a proxy war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Baltic states joined Poland in urging for a stronger defensive stance against Russia. Ultimately, they were told that they were being “alarmist.”
At the time, European leaders seemingly thought that Russia’s neighbours had been so traumatized by Soviet occupation that they could not objectively assess Moscow’s foreign policy. However, the eastern Europeans were ultimately proven right, leading to a recent re-evaluation of their geopolitical expertise.
Last September, for example, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “One lesson from this war is we should have listened to those who know Putin. They have been telling us for years that Putin would not stop.”
It’s easy to laud a prediction after it’s been proven true. The more important task is to listen to eastern European states that are, at this very moment, warning about the danger Russia poses going forward. These countries clearly believe that Ukraine is the first of several dominoes that could fall, and it’s vital that we believe them.
Having seen the cost of inaction, both Poland and the Baltic states are now showing extraordinary leadership on regional defence. Collectively, their military aid, relative to the size of their economies, has been unparalleled. Poland’s lobbying has also been integral to unlocking international donations of tanks and potentially even fighter jets.
However, when it comes to military aid, it seems increasingly possible that Warsaw is prepared to go further. As hinted at by the Polish ambassador’s recent remarks (and not explicitly denied by the embassy’s response), it may be possible that, should Kyiv’s defences buckle, Warsaw could send its own troops to fight alongside the Ukrainians and repel Russia’s advances.
Such an outcome would follow the trajectory of Poland’s existing policies. The Poles have spent the past year pushing boundaries while bolstering their own military recruitment and defence spending.
This kind of intervention would make a lot of sense, because, should Ukraine fall, Poland would have no reason to wait around for the Russian military to catch its breath. Striking when Moscow is depleted might be the best chance for Warsaw to protect its freedom and stop the slow motion dismemberment of eastern Europe.
Such a move would not technically be considered defensive, meaning that NATO states wouldn’t be legally obligated to assist Warsaw, but, given the political context, it’s hard to imagine how NATO could avoid participating in a Polish-Russian war.
Any Ukrainian defeat could lead to continental pandemonium. If a new world war is to be avoided, Russia must be stopped now, not later.